Why pecs? - Child Early Intervention Medical Center

Anne Eichberger, M.A., CCC-SLP
Child Learning & Enrichment Medical Center
Autism Around the World Conference
Zayed University, DUBAI, U.A.E.
To summarize the basic theory
of Picture Exchange
Communication System (PECS)
To address the myths that
surround PECS
To determine the efficacy of the
intervention by literature review
in narrative form
Why do we communicate?
• To express needs and wants
• To develop social closeness
• To exchange information
• To fulfill social etiquette routines
Light 1988
• An estimated 1/3 to 1/2 of children and adults
with autism do not use speech functionally.
(National Research Council, 2001)
Non-Functional Speech Difficulties
Loss of
reliance on
Lack of control
over decisions
Communication Bill of Rights
“All persons, regardless of the extent of their disability, have
a basic right to affect, through communication, the
conditions of their own existence.” (National Joint Committee for the Communicative
Needs of Persons with Severe Disabilities, 1992)
#1 Right…
The right to request desired objects, actions, events,
persons and to express personal preferences or feelings.
Augmentative and Alternative
Communication (“AAC”)
ASHA 1991
What is PECS?
• Developed by Andy Bondy, Ph.D. & Lori Frost, M.S.,
CCC-SLP in 1985
• Teaches functional communication that is immediately
useful by exchanging visual symbols for communication
• Based on principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and on
B.F. Skinner’s 1957 book, “Verbal Behavior”
• Fields of applied behavioral analysis + speech-language
pathology = effective method of teaching functional
Bondy & Sulzer-Azaroff 2002
What does the child learn?
What does the Child Learn?
• Initiation: child learns to be spontaneous and act
without prompting, more control over self-expressions
• Concrete Outcomes: receiving a tangible, desired
item teaches the child to value the act of communicating
with others and is a powerful motivator to drive learning
• Social Context: skills generalized in order to be used
in a variety of environments
• Participants
• Reinforcer
• Velcro book
How does PECS Work?
Target Skill
Phase 1
Physical exchange of picture
Phase 2
Distance and persistence
Phase 3
Picture discrimination
Phase 4
Building Sentences and Attributes
Phase 5
Answering “What do you want?”
Phase 6
Responsive and spontaneous commenting
Possible PECS Candidate?
Is the student using functional communication?
PECS may be
Is the student’s
understandable to
unfamiliar listeners?
Is the student initiating
PECS may be
PECS may be
Are the student’s mean length of
utterance and vocabulary size
PECS may be
PECS Popularity
• Clear and intentional
• Requires few motor movements
• Meaningful and motivating
• Inexpensive and portable
• Large number of communicative partners
PECS is only used for people who don’t speak at all
• System targets initiation and purpose
PECS only teaches the child to learn to request using
single words
• Requesting is the first skill taught
• Progresses to using sentence structure, answering
questions, and finally expands to commenting.
If PECS is used, the learner won’t learn how to speak.
• Research conducted over the past 30 years has demonstrated that
augmentative and alternative communication strategies do not inhibit
the development of speech. Many researchers have reported a
facilitation of speech when AAC strategies are used.
• Schwartz, Garfinkle, and Bauer (1998) children who initially had a
limited spontaneous vocal repertoire continued to have increases in
spontaneous language following PECS training.
If the child is starting to speak, stop PECS immediately
• No evidence to support that taking away pictures will promote
more speech
• Anecdotal information shows the opposite effect
• If you take away skills (by taking away pictures) that is unethical
Cognitive Basis of Autism: Profile of
Cognitive Strengths/Weaknesses
(Minshew, Goldstein & Siegel, 1997; Williams, Goldstein & Minshew, 2006)
Intact abilities
Sensory perception
Elementary motor
Simple memory
Visiospatial processing
Cognitive weakness
Complex sensory
Complex motor
Complex memory
Complex language
Complex formation
Why is Language Processing Difficult?
• Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
(fMRI) study
• Kana 2006; adults with autism used brain
areas typically associated with visual
imagery even if these areas were not
needed for the language processing task
• Koshino et al., 2005; individuals with
autism did not automatically recode visual
information into language, potentially
making it more difficult for them to use
language to scaffold learning and
memory processes
Implications for Language Intervention
Visually based supplementation increases understanding by:
• Making concepts more understandable
• Making material is stable over time
• Creating an “eye-catcher” for capturing and maintaining attention
• Prompting the student
• Helping minimize anxiety
(Twachtman-Cullen 1998)
A Review of the Efficacy of PECS Intervention
Deborah Preston & Mark Cater 2009
Search Strategy:
Journal articles 1992- 2007
Used PECS as whole or part of an intervention strategy
Results had to include data on results of intervention
Research Design:
• 456 participants in 27 studies
• Ages: 20 months – 40 years
• 88% received PECS intervention, 14% non – or
alternative intervention groups
• Single-subject studies
• Randomized control trials
• 377 (83%) were described as having ASD
• Group Designs
• 43% males, 8% females, 48% gender unstated
• Settings: various
Efficacy & Effectiveness
Total group of 394 individuals who received PECS
A great majority successfully mastered at least some phases of
PECS, however 3 individuals were unsuccessful
• Liddle 2001; child reported as being unsuccessful at mastering
phase 1
• Soner et al 2006; 1 adult had difficulty with motor and cognitive
demands of training
• Ticani 2004; 1 adult was more successful with manual signs than
Speech Development
Charlop-Christy et al. (2004);
• Increases in speech during PECS training
Tincani et al. (2006);
• Dramatic increase in Phase IV
Yokoyama et al. (2006);
• Increase in frequency and intelligibility of vocalizations during PECS training phases
Ganz & Simpson (2004);
• Increase in words per trial during phases III & IV
Howlin et al. (2007);
• Little to no effect on speech
Yoder & Stone (2006a);
• PECS groups showed significantly greater increase in frequency of speech and in
number of different words used verses Responsive Prelinguistic Mileu Teaching
Socio-Communication Functions
Charlop-Christy et al. (2002);
• Requesting and initiations were proven to increase the most, occurring on an
average of 2.8 times per session at baseline to 27 times
• Joint attention and eye contact increased from 30% from baseline to 60% post
Kravits and Colleagues (2002);
• Increase in duration of social interaction with peers
Ticani et al., (2006);
• Increases in manding (requesting) from 0% at baseline to approximately 55% post
Yoder & Stone (2006b);
• Those higher in initiating joint attention before treatment showed greater increases
in initiating joint attention and requesting following RPMT intervention, however
those that were Initially lower in initiating joint attention showed greater increases
following PECS intervention
Charlop-Christy, et al., (2002);
• 70% reduction in 10 of the 12 behaviors after implementation of
PECS, and four of the behaviors were completely eliminated from
the child’s everyday actions
• Tantrums and getting out of their seat without permission during
sessions decreased from about 20% to 7% after training
Granz & Simpson, (2004);
• In a 4 year old preschool classroom, PECS was used to decrease
autistic children’s aggressive behavior and was successful
• 5 studies provided
• 15 studies included
data maintenance
• Results: inconclusive
data on generalization
• Results: majority were
positive, skills
generalized to different
settings, people and
Efficacy Review- Discussion
• Research has shown: Many benefits of PECS
• Children able to develop PECS skills quickly
• Increase in spontaneous communication
• Increase in verbal communication
• Increase in social interactions
• Able to generalize skills
• Figures support the preliminary conclusion PECS is an
effective intervention
• A functional communication system allows someone to
express himself
• PECS can be the first step in the path of social interaction
• Using a low tech AAC system, such a PECS, to begin
provides functional communication to teaching a person
“how” to communicate
• When mastered, consider other methods for developing
To Learn More…
• Pyramid Educational Systems: www.pecs.com
• ISAAC – the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative
Communication: www.isaac-online.org/english/home
• Bell, N Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking
• Bondy, A., & Frost, L. (2002), A picture’s worth : PECS and other visual communication strategies in
autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House
Bondy, A., & Frost, L. (1998). The picture exchange communication system. Seminars in Speech
and Language, 19, 373-389.
Bondy, A. & Frost, L. (2001). The Picture Exchange Communication System. Behavior Modification,
25, 725-744.
Charlop-Christy, M., & Jones, C. (2006). The picture exchange communication system. In R.
McCauley and M. Fey (Eds.), Treatment of language disorders in children (pp. 105-122).Baltimore,
MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Light, J., (1997) Reflections on the contexts of language learning for children who use aided AAC.
Alternative and Augmentative Communication, 13, 158-171.
Light, J.C., Roberts, B., Dimarco, R., & Greiner, N. (1998). Augmentative and alternative
communication to support receptive and expressive communication for people who have autism.
Journal of Communication Disorders, 31, 153-180.
National Research Council. (2001). Development of Communication. In National Research Council,
Educating children with autism (pp 47-65). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Preston D, Carter M, A review of the efficacy of the picture exchange communication system
intervention. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (2009) Volume: 39, Issue: 10,
Pages: 1471-86

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